Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Jimmy Carter: Losing His Religion, Keeping His Faith

Jimmy Carter, once again, proves that he knows - and lives - the true meaning of Christianity. A couple of days ago he wrote an article called "Losing My Religion For Equality". The lede is "Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God." In the article, he lays out the reasons that he is severing his ties with the Southern Baptist Convention after 60 years of membership.

My heart goes out to him. I can only imagine how difficult that must have been. As a former Catholic and present liberal Christian (who is not quite smart enough to be an atheist) I have eschewed any formal denomination, because of the actions of many who call themselves Christians. I am a Christian because I believe the teachings of Jesus show the way to the highest, most moral and sane way to live. I also know that many who call themselves Christian will say that I'm not one. But they're right - hopefully, I'm not the same kind of Christian that they are.

My mother left the Catholic Church in the mid-60s. It was an agonizing decision for her to make, but she made that choice after much painful soul-searching and self-examination, realizing that there were just too many things that the Church demanded that she accept without question, and too many areas of her life that the Church wanted to control that had nothing whatsoever to do with faith, and God. She subsequently joined the Unitarian Universalist fellowship, where she found a spiritual and community home, and is active in UU to this day. After we were suddenly 'non-Catholic' I had no further interest in a church, not even UU, and did not consider any kind of faith until I was a young adult, when I began investigating many other world religions. I came back around to Christianity my own convoluted way, beginning with the Twelve Steps and proceeding to the Sermon on the Mount. I find that having a spiritual life helps me to be the person I would like to be, and helps me to find the strength and peace within that sustains me through whatever trials I go through.

But religion and faith aren't necessarily the same thing. Jimmy Carter's belief in God shows how real faith can express itself in the life of a human being. And sometimes that faith must transcend religion to be true to itself. By leaving the SBC, I believe he became closer to the Prince of Peace - and that's the kind of Christianity to which I aspire.


Fran said...

Alica, what a thoughtful post you have given us here, thank you.

I have read about this Carter moment and have spent a lot of time holding it in my heart and mind.

Your own generous sharing of your experience is really good too.

As you know, I am Catholic. I was raised that way, left at 14 in a moment of individuation and returned, albeit reluctantly at 32 and there I remain at 51.

It is never easy and I would be hard pressed to fully explain this to anyone. I consider myself, as many others do, a faithful dissenter. There is a long and rich history of us in the Church and that has provided the shoulders of many giants to stand upon.

In fact, in January 2006, I was at that same Hyatt in DC that we were at together in November 2008, with many of my compatriots!

That said, I read Carter's words wondering how my own journey will progress. For now I keep on this road, I remain hopeful that I will know what to do and when should that moment to depart come.

You have a beautiful gift of spirit, hope and community that is very much a Christian worldview. Thank you.

And blessings to Jimmy Carter who is a true sojourner and prophet.

Alicia Morgan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alicia Morgan said...

I was thinking of you, Fran, as I was writing this post. The truth is, I still go occasionally to Mass, or just kneel in a pew and pray; after all these years, the Catholic Church still feels like a place I can go to be with God. But then, for me, every place is a place that I can be with God - it does not require a ritual or a building. Nevertheless, it is a comfortable and comforting place that I can go to to tune out the outside world and be in a place of prayer, and ritual can be a way of embracing the stillness. So my 'inner Catholic' is still a conduit to meditation and prayer, but I can't follow whith an honest heart rules and regulations that are diametrically opposed to what I believe is moral, right, and just.

And it is people like you, who live the inner truth in their hearts through their faith, that keep me from loathing religion in all its forms.

Sherry said...

Came by way of Fran's blog. Thanks for an enciteful post. I'll be picking you up in my reader. We are on the same political and religious wavelength, though I have found a home in the Episcopal church and couldn't be happier.

Comrade Kevin said...

Until I became a Quaker, I never felt a part of any faith community. There were always major issues and unresolved matters that kept me from feeling fully connected.

I always wondered how President Carter could continue to maintain membership in a Christian denomination where his was a minority voice. The Southern Baptist churches here are a big reason why I became skeptical of Christianity as a whole. Though I know it must pain him to break ties, I know that there are other groups who would be glad to receive his input and considerable experience.